Rampart (fortification)

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The multiple ramparts of the British Camp hillfort in Herefordshire British camp central mound 2005.jpg
The multiple ramparts of the British Camp hillfort in Herefordshire

In fortification architecture, a rampart is a length of bank or wall forming part of the defensive boundary of a castle, hillfort, settlement or other fortified site. It is usually broad-topped and made of excavated earth or masonry or a combination of the two. [1] [2]


Early fortifications

Many types of early fortification, from prehistory through to the Early Middle Ages, employed earth ramparts usually in combination with external ditches to defend the outer perimeter of a fortified site or settlement. [2] Hillforts, ringforts or "raths" and ringworks all made use of ditch and rampart defences, and they are the characteristic feature of circular ramparts. The ramparts could be reinforced and raised in height by the use of palisades. This type of arrangement was a feature of the motte and bailey castle of northern Europe in the early medieval period.

Types of rampart

Earth ditch and rampart defences on the Ipf near Bopfingen, Germany Ipf Wall.jpg
Earth ditch and rampart defences on the Ipf near Bopfingen, Germany
Reconstructed pfostenschlitzmauer of the oppidum at Finsterlohr, Creglingen, Germany Pfostenschlitzmauer.Oppidum-Finsterlohr.Teilrekunstruktion.jpg
Reconstructed pfostenschlitzmauer of the oppidum at Finsterlohr, Creglingen, Germany

The composition and design of ramparts varied from the simple mounds of earth and stone, known as dump ramparts, to more complex earth and timber defences (box ramparts and timberlaced ramparts), as well as ramparts with stone revetments. [2] One particular type, common in Central Europe, used earth, stone and timber posts to form a Pfostenschlitzmauer or "post-slot wall". Vitrified ramparts were composed of stone that was subsequently fired, possibly to increase its strength. [2]

Classical fortifications

During the classical era, societies became sophisticated enough to create tall ramparts of stone or brick, provided with a platform or wall walk for the defenders to hurl missiles from and a parapet to protect them from the missiles thrown by attackers. Well known examples of classical stone ramparts include Hadrian's Wall and the Walls of Constantinople.

Medieval fortifications

The rampart of the Cite de Carcassonne in the Aude department of France. Originally constructed in the 4th century AD by the Romans, they were largely rebuilt in 1240 and heavily restored in the 19th century. Remparts de la cite de Carcassone (3).jpg
The rampart of the Cité de Carcassonne in the Aude department of France. Originally constructed in the 4th century AD by the Romans, they were largely rebuilt in 1240 and heavily restored in the 19th century.

After the fall of the Roman Empire in Europe, there was a return to the widespread use of earthwork ramparts which lasted well into the 11th century, an example is the Norman motte and bailey castle. As castle technology evolved during the Middle Ages and Early Modern times, ramparts continued to form part of the defences, but now they tended to consist of thick walls with crenellated parapets. [3] Fieldworks, however, continued to make use of earth ramparts due to their relatively temporary nature.

Elements of a rampart in a stone castle or town wall, 11th to 15th centuries

Artillery fortifications

The rampart of the artillery fortress at Peschiera del Garda in Italy, which was rebuilt in the trace italienne style in 1549. Fortress Peschiera del Garda.jpg
The rampart of the artillery fortress at Peschiera del Garda in Italy, which was rebuilt in the trace italienne style in 1549.

In response to the introduction of artillery, castle ramparts began to be built with much thicker walling and a lower profile, one of earliest examples first being Ravenscraig Castle in Scotland which was built in 1460. [5] In the first half of the 16th century, the solid masonry walls began to be replaced by earthen banks, sometimes faced with stone, which were better able to withstand the impact of shot; the earth being obtained from the ditch which was dug in front of the rampart. At the same time, the plan or "trace" of these ramparts began to be formed into angular projections called bastions which allowed the guns mounted on them to create zones of interlocking fire. [6] This bastion system became known as the trace italienne because Italian engineers had been at the forefront of its development, although it was later perfected in northern Europe by engineers such as Coehoorn and Vauban and was the dominant style of fortification until the mid-19th century.

Elements of a rampart in an artillery fortification, 16th to 19th centuries

Archaeological significance

As well as the immediate archaeological significance of such ramparts in indicating the development of military tactics and technology, these sites often enclose areas of historical significance that point to the local conditions at the time the fortress was built. [2]

Related Research Articles

Medieval fortification

Medieval fortification refers to medieval military methods that cover the development of fortification construction and use in Europe, roughly from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Renaissance. During this millennium, fortifications changed warfare, and in turn were modified to suit new tactics, weapons and siege techniques.

Glacis Protective slope built into a fortification

A glacis in military engineering is an artificial slope as part of a medieval castle or in early modern fortresses. They may be constructed of earth as a temporary structure or of stone in more permanent structure.

Castle Fortified residential structure of medieval Europe

A castle is a type of fortified structure built during the Middle Ages predominantly by the nobility or royalty and by military orders. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble. This is distinct from a palace, which is not fortified; from a fortress, which was not always a residence for royalty or nobility; and from a fortified settlement, which was a public defence – though there are many similarities among these types of construction. Usage of the term has varied over time and has been applied to structures as diverse as hill forts and country houses. Over the approximately 900 years that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, although some, such as curtain walls, arrowslits, and portcullises, were commonplace.

Defensive wall Fortification used to protect an area from potential aggressors

A defensive wall is a fortification usually used to protect a city, town or other settlement from potential aggressors. The walls can range from simple palisades or earthworks to extensive military fortifications with towers, bastions and gates for access to the city. From ancient to modern times, they were used to enclose settlements. Generally, these are referred to as city walls or town walls, although there were also walls, such as the Great Wall of China, Walls of Benin, Hadrian's Wall, Anastasian Wall, and the Atlantic Wall, which extended far beyond the borders of a city and were used to enclose regions or mark territorial boundaries. In mountainous terrain, defensive walls such as letzis were used in combination with castles to seal valleys from potential attack. Beyond their defensive utility, many walls also had important symbolic functions – representing the status and independence of the communities they embraced.

Hillfort Type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement

A hillfort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage. They are typically European and of the Bronze Age or Iron Age. Some were used in the post-Roman period. The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill and consists of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Hillforts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC, and were used in many Celtic areas of central and western Europe until the Roman conquest.

Fortification Military defensive construction

A fortification is a military construction or building designed for the defense of territories in warfare, and is also used to establish rule in a region during peacetime. The term is derived from Latin fortis ("strong") and facere.


A bastion or bulwark is a structure projecting outward from the curtain wall of a fortification, most commonly angular in shape and positioned at the corners of the fort. The fully developed bastion consists of two faces and two flanks, with fire from the flanks being able to protect the curtain wall and the adjacent bastions. Compared with the medieval fortifications they replaced, bastion fortifications offered a greater degree of passive resistance and more scope for ranged defense in the age of gunpowder artillery. As military architecture, the bastion is one element in the style of fortification dominant from the mid 16th to mid 19th centuries.

Parapet Architectural feature

A parapet is a barrier that is an extension of the wall at the edge of a roof, terrace, balcony, walkway or other structure. The word comes ultimately from the Italian parapetto. The German equivalent Brüstung has the same meaning. Where extending above a roof, a parapet may simply be the portion of an exterior wall that continues above the edge line of the roof surface, or may be a continuation of a vertical feature beneath the roof such as a fire wall or party wall. Parapets were originally used to defend buildings from military attack, but today they are primarily used as guard rails and to prevent the spread of fires. In the Bible the Hebrews are obligated to build a parapet on the roof of their houses to prevent people falling.

Uffington Castle

Uffington Castle is an early Iron Age univallate hillfort in Oxfordshire, England. It covers about 32,000 square metres and is surrounded by two earth banks separated by a ditch with an entrance in the western end. A second entrance in the eastern end was apparently blocked up a few centuries after it was built. The original defensive ditch was V-shaped with a small box rampart in front and a larger one behind it. Timber posts stood on the ramparts. Later the ditch was deepened and the extra material dumped on top of the ramparts to increase their size. A parapet wall of sarsen stones lined the top of the innermost rampart. It is very close to the Uffington White Horse on White Horse Hill.


A battlement in defensive architecture, such as that of city walls or castles, comprises a parapet, in which gaps or indentations, which are often rectangular, occur at intervals to allow for the launch of arrows or other projectiles from within the defences. These gaps are termed "crenels", and a wall or building with them is called crenellated; alternative (older) terms are castellated and embattled. The act of adding crenels to a previously unbroken parapet is termed crenellation.

Pendennis Castle

Pendennis Castle is an artillery fort constructed by Henry VIII near Falmouth, Cornwall, England between 1540 and 1542. It formed part of the King's Device programme to protect against invasion from France and the Holy Roman Empire, and defended the Carrick Roads waterway at the mouth of the River Fal. The original, circular keep and gun platform was expanded at the end of the century to cope with the increasing Spanish threat, with a ring of extensive stone ramparts and bastions built around the older castle. Pendennis saw service during the English Civil War, when it was held by the Royalists, and was only taken by Parliament after a long siege in 1646. It survived the interregnum and Charles II renovated the fortress after his restoration to the throne in 1660.

Bastion fort early modern fortification style built to withstand cannon fire

A bastion fort or trace italienne, is a fortification in a style that evolved during the early modern period of gunpowder when the cannon came to dominate the battlefield. It was first seen in the mid-fifteenth century in Italy. Some types, especially when combined with ravelins and other outworks, resembled the related star fort of the same era.

Forts in India

The existence of the earliest forts in India have been substantiated by documentation and excavation. In the medieval times, the architecture of the forts had both Hindu and Muslim influence. The forts constructed by the British initially opted for simple designs. The existing castles are continually modified and many of them are privately owned.

Séré de Rivières system Fortifications in France

The Séré de Rivières system was named after Raymond Adolphe Séré de Rivières, its originator. The system was an ensemble of fortifications built from 1874 along the frontiers and coasts of France. The fortresses were obsolescent by 1914 but were used during the First World War.

Curtain wall (fortification)

A curtain wall is a defensive wall between two towers (bastions) of a castle, fortress, or town.

Ditch (fortification)

A ditch in military engineering is an obstacle, designed to slow down or break up an attacking force, while a trench is intended to provide cover to the defenders. In military fortifications the side of a ditch farthest from the enemy and closest to the next line of defence is known as the scarp while the side of a ditch closest to the enemy is known as the counterscarp.


In fortification architecture, a terreplein or terre-plein is the top, platform, or horizontal surface of a rampart, on which cannon are placed, protected by a parapet. In Martello towers, the roof or terreplein was sometimes surmounted with one or two cannon mounted on a gun platform with a central pivot, that enabled the guns to traverse up to 360 degrees.

Castell Caer Seion

Castell Caer Seion is an Iron Age hillfort situated at the top of Conwy Mountain, in Conwy County, North Wales. It is unusual for the fact that the main fort contains a smaller, more heavily defended fort, complete with its own distinct defences and entrance, with no obvious means of access between the two. The construction date of the original fort is still unknown, but recent excavations have revealed evidence of occupation as early as the 6th century BC, whilst the smaller fort can be dated with reasonable certainty to around the 4th century BC. Whilst the forts were constructed in different periods, archaeologists have uncovered evidence of concurrent occupation, seemingly up until around the 2nd century BC. The larger fort contained around 50 roundhouses during its lifetime, whereas examinations of the smaller fort have turned up no more than six. The site was traditionally associated with Maelgwyn Gwynedd, but there is no evidence pointing to a 6th-century occupation. The fort and wider area beyond its boundaries have been said to retain significant archaeological potential, and are protected by law as a scheduled ancient monument.

Polygonal fort

A polygonal fort is a type of fortification originating in France in the late 18th century and fully developed in Germany in the first half of the 19th century. Unlike earlier forts, polygonal forts had no bastions, which had proved to be vulnerable. As part of ring fortresses, polygonal forts were generally arranged in a ring around the place they were intended to protect, so that each fort could support its neighbours. The concept of the polygonal fort proved to be adaptable to improvements in the artillery which might be used against them, and they continued to be built and rebuilt well into the 20th century.


  1. Friar, Stephen (2003). The Sutton Companion to Castles, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2003, p. 241. ISBN   978-0-7509-3994-2
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Darvill, Timothy (2008). Oxford Concise Dictionary of Archaeology, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, p. 376. ISBN   978-0-19-953404-3.
  3. Curl, James Stevens (2006). Oxford Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, 2nd ed., OUP, Oxford and New York, p. 622. ISBN   978-0-19-860678-9.
  4. Hourihane, Colum (editor) 2012, The Grove Encyclopedia of Medieval Art and Architecture: Volume 1, Oxford University Press, ISBN   978-0-19-539536-5 (pp. 299-300)
  5. Hogg, pp. 28-31
  6. Hogg, pp. 39-40
  7. Hogg, pp. 55-58